If you tell me you’ve got an idea for a video game and it combines racing and platforming, I’m all in. But I add the following caveat: It has to present the player with intuitive, reliable mechanics, or it’s going to become a frustrating mess. Unfortunately, while Jet Car Stunts isn’t precisely a “mess,” it’s a touchy, under-developed game that only reinforces my deeply entrenched theory that games made for smartphones don’t translate well to real gaming units. On the Vita, it’s occasionally fun, but there are certainly better titles available.
The graphics are an odd mix of yawn-inducing blandness and surprising appeal. For instance, when a track is set before a setting sun, the lighting really shines. But when you focus on the tracks and cars themselves, you’re less than impressed. Again, because we’re talking about a title that originally released for iOS back in 2009, the detail is severely lacking. This goes double when compared to other stunningly beautiful Vita productions. I suppose this isn’t a deal-breaker for those seeking a wacky, lighthearted good time, but it’s hard to ignore. The effects are pretty pedestrian as well.
The sound isn’t much better, although the Vita iteration does capture the satisfying roar of the jet engine when your vehicle launches into the sky. The soundtrack isn’t exactly memorable and in some cases, the music is beyond generic. Then again, I wouldn’t want an insistent score interrupting my concentration, and some of the sound effects are actually comedic. I especially like when my car slams into the edge of a platform and breaks apart into pathetic pieces. Overall, though, the technical elements of Jet Car Stunts are mediocre at best, and really aren’t worth dissecting further.
So, there are these bizarre, broken tracks suspended in the clouds, and you’re supposed to negotiate them with a wicked cool vehicle. This jet car is aptly named: Shaped like an F1 car and boasting a powerful burst that literally allows the car to fly, it’s a futuristic marvel. The player can control the car’s direction and pitch when in mid-air, too, so it lends the experience an admittedly light piloting feel. There are three different modes: Platforming, Time Trial and Collector, and in each, you’ll have to master the ultra-finicky controls of these insanely agile cars. Practice makes perfect, of course, but there isn’t enough content to make that practice worthwhile.
The idea is relatively simple but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, you fall and die a lot. If you’re not perfect, you’re probably going down. Now, if the mechanics were spot-on, I’d be much more lenient; after all, a challenging game isn’t inherently bad. It only stumbles when the player has to battle unreliable controls in addition to that built-in difficulty. Now, maybe it’s just because the Vita’s analog sticks aren’t very big, and it’s tough to be pinpoint accurate with them. That’s a possibility, and I’ve seen higher review scores for the game on PS3.
Whatever the reason, though, this game just doesn’t fly on Vita (pun intended). It’s difficult to tell exactly when you should hit the jet boost to launch off a platform; do it too soon and you might fly right over the rings you need to pass through. Do it to late and you won’t even reach the first one. There’s an interesting twist to the game, in that you’re not really racing others. You’re basically just trying to get through the stage in the Platforming mode, and you get ten tries. There are 25 tracks ranging from Very Easy to Very Hard, but don’t think for a second that you’ll breeze through the easy tracks. Just about all of them take a fair amount of practice.
Time Trial is pretty straightforward and it has nothing to do with the platforming element. You just race around a variety of tracks, trying to post the fastest time. You can compete against the times set by your friends, and you can try to earn those elusive Gold Medals. Collector reminded me a little of Joe Danger, as you have to find all five gold stars on any given track; once you nab them all, the stage ends. It’s a nice little bonus to a game that’s in dire need of more content but again, the control issue gets in the way. Even when you think you’ve grasped the iffy mechanics, the horrid physics might still bite you in the ass.
There is no multiplayer to speak of, which only makes the experience that might lighter. There are only 11 courses in the Time Trial mode, even the toughest tracks in Platforming and Collector are actually quite short and it’s almost like the game relies on your constant dying to extend its longevity. Don’t get me wrong; there’s some fun to be had. It’s just a matter of your patience level and the platform you choose. If you’re going with the Vita version, I think you’ll be disappointed in the lack of accuracy and solidarity, and you probably won’t spend too long topping your best scores. Most likely, you’ll be happy just to complete a stage.
Jet Car Stunts doesn’t have the requisite depth and polish to be considered a worthy title for the PlayStation Vita. It’s a mobile game and yeah, it looks and plays like one. If you can get a handle on the finicky controls, the game can be entertaining and even rewarding. But the lack of content, bad physics and collision detection, and mediocre technical elements are impossible to ignore. I’ve got no problem with breezy little games designed to give us a breather from those huge open-world extravaganzas that are starting to dominate. I do, however, have a problem with any game that comes across as slipshod and unrefined.
The Good: Some fantastic lighting on a few courses. The cars perform decently when grounded. Solid track design. Can be satisfying and rewarding.
The Bad: Subpar graphical detail and generic sound throughout. Loose, finicky control leads to frustration. Terrible physics. Not enough gameplay content. No multiplayer.
The Ugly: “This is why mobile games should stay in the mobile space.”